In October 2021, California became the first state in the U.S to mandate gender-neutral display sections for products like toys in larger retail outlets. The law is a victory for LGBTQ advocates who say that the “pink and blue hues of traditional marketing” encourage children “conform to gender stereotypes.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the law, which states that retail stores with more than 500 workers that sell childcare items and toys must “maintain a gender neutral section or area, to be labeled at the discretion of the retailer, in which a reasonable selection of the items and toys for children that it sells shall be displayed, regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys.”
This law does not include clothes, and applies to toys and childcare items that include toothbrushes and hygiene products. A company that fails to comply will face a $250 penalty for a first time violation, and a $500 penalty for additional violations.
It should be noted that retailers can still offer goods that are marketed specifically for boys or girls, and the law does not ban specific sections for boys and girls while calling for a gender-neutral section.
But critics of the bill argued that it is a violation of free speech.
Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council lobbying group, said, “[Activists] and state legislators have no right to force retailers to espouse government-approved messages about gender. It’s a violation of free speech and it’s just plain wrong.”
An architect of the bill, California Assemblyman Evan Low, said he was inspired by Target’s 2015 policy of removing some gendered sections of their store. He was also inspired by the 10-year-old daughter of one of his staffers, who asked why some items at the store were “off limits” to her because of her gender.
In 2015 Target released a statement saying:
Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer product suggestions based on gender. In some cases, like apparel, where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may not. Historically, guests have told us that sometimes—for example, when shopping for someone they don’t know well—signs that sort by brand, age or gender help them get ideas and find things faster. But we know that shopping preferences and needs change and, as guests have pointed out, in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary. We heard you, and we agree.
The California law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.